Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Venice. Gaston Monescu is a small-time crook who just robbed a certain Mr. Filiba while pretending to be a doctor. He meets Lily, who is also a crook who wanted to rob him, and they fall in love. Some time later, Gaston and Lily are in Paris, where an ultra-rich woman, Mariette Colet, catches their attention, so they steal her diamond purse in an opera. However, when Mariette offers a stunning 20,000 francs reward, Gaston goes to her mansion and returns her bag, feigning that he found it somewhere. Upon hearing that she has over a 100,000 francs in her safe, he manages to persuade Mariette to hire him as her secretary, planning to rob her in a few weeks. Mariette and Gaston fall in love, but he decides to escape when he stumbles upon Mr. Filiba again. In the end, Gaston departs with Lily, but not before she stole Mariette's purse.
A remarkably elegant, calm, unassuming and elevated comedy by the cinematic maestro Ernst Lubitsch is today rightfully regarded as a classic, since the director crafted a funny, intelligent, emotional, cultured, wise... In short, an all-encompassing achievement that operates on a high comic level, while at the same time enriching the American cinema world with the 'European flair'. It takes some long 20 minutes for Lubitsch to finally prepare his set-up, but it is worth the wait since once he does, the storyline flows smoothly and has a meticulous structure. Lubitsch, just like his disciple B. Wilyder, is first and foremost a writer—not a director—and thus puts all the focus only on the story, the characters and the dialogues, neglecting cinematic techniques almost entirely, settling only for the conventional, classic camera shots, yet when the former ingredients are so delicious, nothing else matters. The culture clash between the small-time crook Gaston and the ultra-rich Mariette—which subtly mirrors the contradiction of the rich and the poor during the Great Depression of that epoch— is one of the building blocks for the film's humor: upon returning her diamond purse, the bewildered Gaston is flabbergasted by Mariette's mansion and enters the bedroom, spotting an expensive 18th century bed. He is even more surprised when Mariette says this: "Oh, I got tired of sleeping in antiques, so I gave this bed to my secretary!" Mariette is so carefree she then goes on to the safe on the wall and starts unlocking it, while Gaston is right behind her, staring greedly at the safe and holding up his hand to imagine operating the combination of numbers.
"Trouble in Paradise" is filled with endlessly quotable lines, which sound like music to the film buffs ear. In one scene, for instance, Lily is jealous at Mariette, but Gaston ensures her: "As far as I'm concerned, her whole sex-appeal is in that safe!" However, Lubitsch is also highly inspired in numerous visual, 'common sense' jokes. For instance, Mariette has two annoying suitors, the Major and Mr. Filiba. During a preparation for the dinner, the Major prepares the guest list and places the paper with his name right next to Mariette's plate—but puts the paper with the name "Filiba", of his rival, far away from her, at the end of the table, just in case. In the opening segment in Venice, Mr. Filiba was also robbed by Gaston who was in disguise, but meets him later in the film again, in Paris, yet cannot remember from where he knows him. Until there is a scene in which Mr. Filiba puts a cigarette in an ashtray in the form of a gondola and has a sudden 'association realization'—this is superior humor. Another great moment involves the clock montage, in which the camera is only displaying the clock all the time, while all the lines are heard off screen (Lily departing from Gaston at 5:00; Mariette asking Gaston to go have dinner with her already at 5:13; the night shot of Mariette asking Gaston to spend more time with her after a dance at 10:45 PM...), yet they illustrate the gradual growth of affection between Gaston and Mariette without showing anything, which is genius. A very sympathetic and genuine film, yet only the masters can take the most complicated and difficult ingredients and make them seem like they were the easiest thing to do—which is obvious in the fact that the film seems simple, yet very few directors have managed to make something like it.
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A small town, 19th century. A young couple arrive with a carriage to a tavern. While the woman is distracted, Death, in the form of a man in a black robe, takes away her fiance. She goes to the underworld and asks Death if he can bring back her lover. Death then tells her three stories about lovers with tragic endings: in a Middle Eastern city, a Caliph does not want his daughter to fall in love with a Christian man, and thus has him executed... In Venice, Monna is engaged to the wealthy Girolamo, but is secretly in love with the ordinary merchant, Gianfrancesco. Girolamo thus tricks Monna into attacking Gianfrancesco while they are both wearing masks, while a Moor kills Gianfrancesco by stabbing him in the back... In a Chinese village, a magician is summoned by the Emperor to entertain him through some magic tricks. However, the Emperor falls in love with the magician's assistant, Tiao Tsien, and wants to separate her from her lover, Liang. Tiao Tsien takes the magician's wand to escape, but the Emperor's guard kills her lover... Back in present, Death gives the woman until midnight to find someone to replace her lover's demise. She tries, but cannot find anyone and thus decides to die herself and be reunited with her lover in death.
Widely thought to be director Fritz Lang's breakthrough film, "Destiny" is an unusual and allegorical tale about fatalism and the inability of people to escape from tragedy, not even when they are happily in love. Lang takes a lot of inspiration from Griffith's "Intolerance" since the main story is just a framing device for three more stories set in the past (a city in the Middle East; Venice; a Chinese town), except that here the reoccurring theme of selfishness of other people who prevent the love of a young couple is underlined by having the two lead actors, Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen, play lovers in each epoch, symbolizing the endless cycle of their fate, which in turn inspired later allegorical films, including Aronofsky's "The Fountain". Strictly speaking, these three stories are rather superfluous and have little to do to contribute to the main one in the end, which makes the movie not that impressive anymore. The best one is arguably the Chinese story, since it had several opulent set designs combined with the technique of double exposure to conjure up the feeling of the magician's magic tricks (flying on a magic carpet; a miniature army walking beneath his feet; a flying horse) featuring several bizarre characters (the Emperor, for some reason, has extremely long fingernails). However, despite the fantasy concept, the storyline is presented in a rather standard, routine edition, not managing to ignite on a higher level. For instance, there is only scene that illustrates the love of the couple: the one where they are in a carriage, and the man is so shy that he has to throw a blanket over a goose inside in order to properly kiss the woman. Lang was not in his full element quite yet, yet even in this rudimentary edition, he managed to inspire several directors to craft several similar surreal movies.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Space Cop is a reckless police officer in Milwaukee of 2058. While chasing after an alien spaceship in his space car, he accidentally gets sucked into a time portal and lands in Milwaukee of 2015, where he finds a job, again at the police. While chasing after two burglars who took the frozen brain of scientist Marcus from a cryo lab, Space Cop unleashes Ted, a police detective from the 50s who was also frozen. Now in present, Ted, a cop from the past, and Space Cop, a cop from the future, have to solve the case of the aliens who want to revive Dr. Marcus, who was preparing a giant black hole experiment, and give his brain in a vat a mechanical body to find a new energy source for their planet. However, the brain in a vat kills them and intends to destroy Earth, but Space Cop and Ted stop him in the alien spaceship.
Produced by the RedLetterMedia trio, independent science-fiction comedy flick "Space Cop" is a spoof of the 'buddy-cop' movies from the 80s and 90s that often followed the formula of two unlikely heroes having to work together, and as such it is a rather fun and energetic little film, though it is not in good relations with a few crude or juvenile attempts at humor that wreck its mood, especially not in the rather trashy finale. Some jokes work, some don't. The best one revolve around the character interaction between Space Cop, a cop from the future, and Ted, a detective from the past, since they are played by fellow RedLetterMedia friends Chris Evans and Mike Stoklasa, who obviously like to cooperate with each other. Unfortunately, Ted and Space Cop do not interact that much, and instead mostly talk to other characters, acting as if they are each in "their own film". Evans is especially surprising imitating a deep Eastwood-like 'macho' voice throughout, which is often contrasted by his clumsiness. In one sequence, as two burglars are in a lab, Space Cop slams the door and triumphantly enters with this cheesy line: "The party's over, kids. The clown has arrived!" Another scene has him just staring at the video screen while his police chief (Patton Oswalt in a delicious guest appearance) cannot "hang up" the connection, even though he swiped at the screen, so he simply stands up and walks away from the desk, since he cannot stand Space Cop. Another great little joke has Space Cop asking Ted if he checked out if his wife is maybe still alive, since they lived in the 50s, upon which Ted replies: "Oh God, no! If my wife is still alive, she is probably an elderly person by now!" Some scenes are misguided and stupid, though (the baby hostage sequence, for instance, is disastrous), whereas 'slob comedies' were always of an overall lesser impression than comedies with intelligent protagonists. Since the whole storyline is assembled just out of random, episodic sketches, some will probably not enjoy in its goofy-cartoonish tone, yet overall it is an amusing little film that has its moments and surprises.
Saturday, July 7, 2018
During their honeymoon on a Caribbean island, Reuben finds his wife Lisa cheating on him with a local diving instructor. Devastated and betrayed, he returns back to New York to his job as a risk analyst for life insurance, trying to find reasons to insure a very risky client, Leland. He then meets Polly, a former high school classmate, and asks her out. Despite her too wild lifestyle, they start a relationship. Unexpectedly, Lisa returns and wants to reconcile. Upon finding out that Reuben is weighing the percentage of his chances between her and Lisa on a computer, Polly dumps Reuben. He still manages to convince her to return to him.
Even though "Along Came Polly" came on the wave of success of his hit comedy "There's Something About Mary", it caught Ben Stiller in a good, but stilted comic performance that drew too many comparisons to the latter film, causing a backlash that the comedian got stuck in the same old role that became boring. While this consensus is wrong, the movie really seems predictable and derivative at times. It is semi-successful: some jokes work, some misfire. At least two sequences (Reuben accidentally rubbing his face of a sweaty man's chest while playing basketball; the clogged and flooded toilet) are really cheap attempts at humor, with several 'rough' edges disrupting the mood, but luckily there are enough good gags, as well, which make the movie fun and easy to watch. Philip Seymour Hoffman, though, steals the show as the character Sandy, a former child star who made only one film (!) but still pretends to be a famous movie star even as a grown up, who is a small comic gem. This culminates in two of the best moments in the entire film: one is when he hijacks the entire theater group by unilaterally re-casting himself from a supporting role of Judas to the main role of Jesus in a play, causing an epic backlash from Reuben's dad, and the other is when the plays Reuben at an important insurance conference ("All right, we all need to look into our hearts and go, "Do I think this dude is gonna die in a few years or not?" Is old Leland here gonna fight off a man... who goes by the last name "Reaper," first name "Grim"? Or will this BASE-jumping, crocodile-wrestling, shark-diving, volcano-lugging, bear-fighting, snake-wrangling, motocross-racing bastard die?"). The second most amusing performance was unexpectedly delivered by none other than Alec Baldwin, who gave a few delicious jokes as Reuben's office colleague.
Friday, July 6, 2018
San Francisco, '98. During an acting class, Greg Sestero, a young and aspiring actor, encounters the mysterious Tommy Wiseau and gets fascinated by his bold performance in front of the audience. They become friends. Upon hearing that Greg wants to make it in Hollywood, Tommy reveals that he actually has an apartment in Los Angeles and invites Greg to stay at his place. Greg even finds an agent to represent him, but they both fail to land any movie roles. Finally, Tommy decides to write his own script, and direct it into a movie, "The Room", staring himself and Greg. After numerous problems during principal photography, "The Room" premieres to the audience that laughs at it. However, Greg manages to cheer Tommy up and inspire him to accept the reaction to the movie.
James Franco's 12th directorial achievement proves once again the old saying that sometimes the events surrounding making a movie are sometimes far more interesting and fascinating than the sole movie in question. For this enterprise, Franco couldn't have chosen a riskier subject—Tommy Wiseau's bizarre film "The Room"—yet he delivered probably the best possible movie about the peculiar director since the result is a clever, funny, versatile, unusual and refreshingly human little film. A large credit should be given to the excellent script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who used Wiseau's story as a symbol for the plight and misunderstanding of outsiders, of people who are rejected by society just because they are different. However, the viewers should be familiar with "The Room" before watching "The Disaster Artist", since it contains so many hilarious little references to that film, whereas Franco perfectly nails Wiseau's little mannerisms and moves, downright to his surreal laugh. At least three quotes are unforgettable, two of which involve movie business: one is when an acting coach observes Tommy's performance and tells him that he should just plain villains ("I'm giving you a shortcut to success") and the other is when the actors are surprised how the aging actress, Carolyn, is willing to get up at 5 AM just to travel to the shooting of the movie, upon which she also delivers a fine, dignified reply ("Even the worst day on the movie set is better than the best day anywhere else"). Many jokes arrive swiftly, stemming from the character interactions which help alleviate for some minor flaws in editing or the choice of music, and the actors seem to have a blast saying all these one-liners from "The Room" which already inexplicably entered the hall of fame of pop culture ("Oh, hay Mark!"), signalling Wiseau's delayed 'pyrrhic victory' after all. Neustadter and Weber strip Wiseau from his misguided writing piece by piece, until they get to the essence, to a man following his dreams despite all obstacles, to pure passion and expressiveness, which are universal traits of humanity.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
World War II is over, so bombardier Fred is discharged from the army and sent back home. During a flight to his hometown, he meets two other veterans and makes friends with them: Sergeant Al and Navy officer Homer who lost both his fists in the war, leaving him with prosthetic hooks on his arms. Back in town, Fred is reunited with his wife, Marie, whom he married hastily during the war, but finds out she is only interested in spending his money and partying. He finds a job selling perfumes in a store. Al is back to his wife, Milly, and their two kids, and is promoted to an official approving loans in a bank. His daughter, Peggy, is in love with Fred. Homer returns to his parents, but is reluctant to marry his fiance, Wilma, fearing she will be confined to only take care of him due to his disability. Fred divorces Marie. Home and Wilma marry, whereas Fred admits his love for Peggy.
Although very conventional and ordinary drama, "The Best Years of Our Lives" roused a big attention from the critics and the audiences, since it sold 55,000,000 tickets at the American box office, and was awarded with several prizes thanks to its engaging, humanistic concept of following three war veterans trying to return and re-integrate back to their normal lives once the war is over. The movie is not perfect. Its first hour is overrated, dwelling too often into the melodramatic, sentimental territory that focuses too much on the characters hugging, crying and experiencing the hardships of life, whereas its dialogues and William Wyler's direction are deliberately common, to conjure up the feeling of everyday 'slice-of-life' routine. However, the movie picks up in its second act and starts to gain interest by presenting the untypical, unglamourous, "un-patriotic" and genuine perspective of the three veterans who feel like "fish out of water" in their own hometown in this era. One of them is the character of Fred, who hurriedly married Marie during the war, thinking he might die, anyway, but who survived the war and now has to live with her. He finds out she is a 'gold-digger', a woman who doesn't really love him, but only his money. Fred's humiliation, when he returns to his store, only to find out his job was taken while he was away, and now has to sell perfume to costumers, is palpable and very bitter.
The character of Al is equally as interesting: after getting drunk, he wakes up so confused that he throws his shoes out of the window and takes a shower in his pajamas, whereas he laments to his wife: "Last year it was killing Japs, and this year it's... make money!" His wife even tells their daughter how their marriage was never perfect ("How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?"), which mirrors the double theme of the entire film: one is that idealism does not exist, whereas the other is that once these people have served their purpose, they are not important to the society anymore. The most talked about subplot was the one revolving around the disabled veteran Homer: even though the producers probably argued against it, fearing it might be too depressive, Wyler insisted on casting the real-life amputee Harold Russell in the role, achieving a very honest, albeit bitter effect of showing all the limitations, fragility and omissions of physical life. Homer has hooks instead of hands and his problems might be even too realistic for some viewers. This culminates in one of the most emotional sequences in cinema history: he feels that his fiance, Wilma, will feel "trapped" in the marriage due to his burden ("You don't know what it will be like to live with me. Got to face this every day...Every night."), so he invites her to see how he looks like when he undresses when he goes to bed. Homer then takes away his prosthetics and expects her to run away — but she stays and tells him she love him, anyway. These constructions of the storyline give it a higher level, since they bravely explore the unpleasant side-effects of war, showing how imaginary the notion of a "victory" is when the heroes, once away, now lost their normal lives for good.
Monday, June 25, 2018
Jack, a reporter, is sent by his editor to the Kanoma city to cover a hot new treasury candidate, an ordinary farmer, Willie Stark, who is facing enormous opposition by the oppressive local government. Jack is so fascinated by Stark's idealism and speeches about justice for the poor people, that he joins his cause as his PR man. When he runs for a second time, Stark loses again to the mainstream candidate, but doesn't give up. Years later, Stark runs again and finally gets elected as the Governor, hiring Jack and Sadie as his associates. However, once in power, Stark adopts oppressive tactics, as well: he bribes, blackmails, has an affair with Anne Stanton, Jack's girlfriend, whereas his adoptive son, Tom, has a car crash that kills a girl, and her father is later found dead before he can press any charges. When judge Stanton, Anne's uncle, starts an impeachment against Stark, the politician blackmails him with evidence of how the judge got his first job. In shame, the judge then commits suicide. Anne's brother, Adam, then shoots Stark.
This quality and ambitious political drama explores the theme of the often used proverbial saying "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" through the fictional story of politician Willie Stark (excellent Broderick Crawford) who undergoes a transformation from a humble, honest, philanthropic candidate to a greedy, dishonest, megalomaniac and oppressive Governor, symbolizing the tale of small people who fight against the upper class only to in the end become the new upper class themselves, and this was done in a rather clever way, though the critics still concluded that the movie lost some of the layers and richness of the original novel, "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren. The director Robert Rossen uses a few great shot compositions with depth of field to make the ordinary scenes stand out, whereas he knows how to deliver an "actor's film". The story is subversive in exploring the notion of "right is might" through several scenes: in one of them, Jack is surprised that his editor is cancelling his articles about Stark in the newspaper since the latter is endangering the establishment ("We are now supporting Harrison!") whereas in the next chapter, it is revealed how Stark, now Governor, took one of the first steps in buying off newspapers and radio stations to secure his position. However, the film lacks highlights. It has one great moment—after he lost the election, Stark goes to a bar and takes a drink with a mysterious smile, surprising his associates with these words: "I learned something. How to win."—yet "All the King's Men" needed more of such scenes since it ended up too didactic, schematic and grey in the second half, struggling to find true inspiration instead of just queuing dry symbolism again and again, which makes it not that fresh anymore, in spite its other virtues.
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Vancouver. Cass is a sucessful business woman, but is a failure when it comes to finding the right man who wants to marry her. Upon the insisting of her sister, Cass starts to read the self-help book "Dater's Handbook" which suggest she is constantly picking wrong, iresponsible men who don't want to commit. She thus breaks up with her boyfriend, Peter, and decides to go on a date with the relaxed and casual Robert. However, when a manager, George, invites her to diner, she decides to date him simultaneously, as well, in order to see which of the two men will turn out to be the "right one". She drops Robert and chooses George, since he is the opposite of a man she always picked: reliable, conservative, safe, boring. Too boring, however, and thus, in the end, Cass still decides to make up with Robert.
"Dater's Handbook" is remembered for being the last film featuring Meghan Markle, before her retirement from acting as she got married to Prince Harry two years later. It is a rather standard romantic comedy flick, yet it gains 90% of its charm thanks to Markle's sweet, lovable and funny performance, who here probably wanted to display all she got before calling it quits in the movie world, and this works to some extent, since she manages to lift up the level of the rather routine and light storyline by a notch. The story focuses on the theme of trying to rationalize love in the heroine Cass who is attracted to the "wild" and unpredictable Robert, but decides to pick the opposite spectrum and go for the boring and predictable, stable George, hoping she will finally find the opposite man who will commit, and this uncertainty gives the movie some sparks. One of the best jokes arrives in the office, when Cass informs an employee that he goofed when he made a thousand cylindrical football ball snuggies featuring the word "Tornadoes" because he thought it meant American football, when it fact it meant the South American association football, which has a round ball. How does she solve this? She simply tells him to call a high school in Wichita which has a "Tornadoes" team and ask if they need plush toy football balls, in order to sell them the unnecessary stuff. Another good scene is the "stolen moment" of Cass observing her and Robert's dog bringing back a freesbee together, holding it in both of their jaws, which is a nice foreshadowing, as well as the comical moment of Robert trying to play football in order to block Cass from bowling. While the ending is somewhat too neat and the story plays it too safe, "Dater's Handbook" is a cute and amiable little film that has its moments.
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Jack is an air traffic controller. After he temporarily loses one plane on the radar because it was covered by a fly on his monitor, he gets four weeks off and decides to spend his summer vacation in a small town in Florida, together with his wife Sandy and their three kids. However, Jack encounters even more stress there: he gets a sunburn; he realizes his family settled in a rented house on the wrong address; he worries his teenage daughter might date a suspicious lifeguard... After he accidentally rubbed a local tycoon, Al, the wrong way, Al becomes the new landlord and orders Jack's family to leave the apartment. However, thanks to a local, Scully, Jack wins against Al in a bet when he wins in a sailing competition, and thus gets an extension to stay.
Movies about summer vacation or camping turned out uninspired and arbitrary more often than not, and this film by Carl Reiner is not an exception, either. It is assembled in an episodic fashion, with light vignettes about the ironic misadventures revolving around the hero who takes a vacation, but rarely any one of them is funny or memorable. In fact, it seems they were making all these scenes on the spot, as they went along, which makes them feel as if anybody could have come up with them, and not a true master of comedy who took some effort to craft a good storyline beforehand. While it is ironic that the protagonist takes a vacation to escape from stress, only to find out his vacation just offers even more stress, John Candy (in only his 2nd leading role on film) cannot save this thin film by himself, despite his comic talent. One of the rare examples of some true humor is only found sparsely, such as the moment where Jack asks a whole line of people why they are all passing through the yard of his rented house, only for one man to open his mouth only to burp and point at the sign that says "Beach access route" or when Jack is reluctant to wear any bathing suit because he is embarrassed to show his weight in front of all the people in the open. Unfortunately, "Summer Rental" simply lacks highlights or reasons to watch it, and thus it is indeed much more fun to go on a vacation yourself than to try to search for funny moments in this storyline.
The Parr family–Bob, Helen, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack–are forced back to being a "normal" family after the superheroes are outlawed by the government due to too much collateral damage caused while catching criminals, and thus the Incredibles become a thing of the past. However, Helen accepts the advice of millionaire Winston and secretly returns as Elastigirl, fighting crime in the city. Thus, Bob stays at home and has to take care of the kids all alone, despite huge problems: Violet is angry that the agents erased the memory of her crush, Tony, while baby Jack-Jack has uncontrolled outbursts of superpowers. It turns out that Winston's sister, Evelyn, wants to sidetrack the agreement for rehabilitation of superheroes, in order to make them illegal permanently. Thanks to all the family, Evelyn is stopped and the agreement is signed.
Full 14 years have passed since the original "Incredibles" was released, and this long hesitation took its toll in this somewhat weaker assembled sequel, but a one that still offers enough humor, wit and creative action sequences to "float above" the average empty big budget spectacles, while also adapting feminist undertones: here, Helen / Elastigirl has been promoted to the main character while her husband, Bob, now unemployed, has to stay at home and take care of their kids while she is at work, whereas even the plot twist involving a villain stays true to this gender equality notion. "Incredibles 2" suffer the most from two things: Violet was an excellent character in the 1st film, since her teenage problems were easily identifiable, yet was sadly pushed to the background in this story, whereas the subplot involving the baby having sudden outbursts of uncontrolled superpowers (turning into a red devil while angry; teleporting himself...) was ill-conceived and misguided, a cheap attempt at jokes that clash badly with some more sophisticated moments in the film. Some of the finest moments arrive precisely from quiet comedy bits, mostly from Bob trying to take care of the kids at home: in one of them, after the baby has escaped several times from the cot at night, a tired Bob puts a table on top of the bed, so that the baby will not escape from it again. In another, while Helen calls over the phone and asks if Dash has done his homework, the camera pans at Dash sleeping on the table, while Bob says: "He's done!" More of such clever jokes would have been welcomed, since there are a few moment of "empty walk" here and there, whereas the three sequences of the villain's hypno-rays are a "flashlight overkill", yet Bird once again demonstrates that he still has enough freshness and ideas to deliver fun movies, which compensates for several omissions.